For decades, even centuries, the material handling industry has served the needs of both the business community and the private sector, receiving minimal interest in, recognition of and appreciation for the value it provides.
In the business community, among the buyers and users of its products and services, the industry struggles to find an identity due to its inability to accurately and concisely define what it is, what it does and the value it creates. This inability to provide a consistent message has negatively impacted how the industry is perceived in the business community. This has led to confusion as to the scope of its products and services and how it can provide solutions that address a company’s business needs.
Many users do not understand the diverse facets of the industry and therefore may not even fully understand when they should call upon it to assist in solving their business needs. When involved, in most cases, the industry functions on a tactical level, supplying the means to implement an element of an overall business strategy instead of playing a role in developing the business strategy itself. When the industry is involved on a tactical level, it is generally to provide goods and services at the lowest cost. This causes the industry to suffer a disproportionate balance in the price/value relationship. When involved on a strategic level, the focus of the user is on a solution that provides the highest value for their organization. In this role, the industry benefits from a better balance in the price/value relationship. That is, it receives a fairer price for the goods and services that it provides.
Through the years, the inability to promote the industry as one that provides value solutions instead of tactical solutions has contributed to compressed margins and reduced profits. This trend will continue unless the industry works collectively to change the mindset of its buyers and users as to the industry’s identity and its strategic value to their business.
In the private sector, the industry contributes to the enhancement of everyday quality of life yet it remains transparent to most individuals, unable to create an awareness of the integral role it plays in their lives and an appreciation of the opportunities it offers.
In the consumer community, many would argue that there is little value in trying to create a better awareness and recognition of the industry. After all, most consumers take for granted that goods will be on the shelf when they need them or will be received error-free and on a timely basis when ordered on the Internet. This may be true, but the value in providing awareness and recognition in the consumer community is focused on a different level.
The material handling industry and the organizations that comprise it will continue to grow and thrive only if all are focused on continuous improvement. As the business and needs of its users change, it must not only keep up with these changes but be ahead of them, anticipating these evolving and changing needs. This is the only way it will be in a position to continue to provide value.
At the core of continuous improvement is the ability to always look to enhance organizational structure, business processes and quality of people. Organizationally, the industry must ensure that it is structured to most effectively serve the interests of its customers. Its business processes must ensure that goods and services can be consistently delivered in the most efficient manner. People must be the best talent available and they must be trained to provide world-class service.
Creating an awareness and recognition at the consumer level will help ensure the availability of a continuing pool of people that will sustain the industry’s growth and bring new, fresh ideas to the industry. New people with fresh ideas will be the catalyst to drive the industry and its organizations’ continuous improvement. The industry traditionally seeks talent primarily from within its own ranks. This recycling of human talent leads to the recycling of ideas and approaches and encumbers continuous improvement. The industry must continue to look at other industries as well as the academic community to attract and acquire new human talent. As an industry, material handling has every career path that other industries have. It needs to do a better job of making outside pools of talent aware of them.
Being an advocate for the industry is the job of every member of the material handling industry. The more the industry works together to create awareness and recognition both within and outside the industry, the more the industry will grow and prosper. Although the benefits of these efforts will not be immediately seen, it must be done to ensure the strength and position of the industry for the future.
Great examples of industry advocates can be found throughout this issue of The MHEDA Journal. Some members of the industry have made an impact on us all through their service in the military. These individuals have taken the skills they have learned in the material handling industry and applied them in military service. They have also enhanced their skills while serving our country and will be better positioned to contribute to the continuous improvement of their organizations and the industry they serve because of that experience.
All of these individuals proudly represent the material handling industry in their military service and have been strong advocates for increasing the awareness and recognition of the industry. We should thank them for their efforts and look at them as role models for each of us to serve as industry advocates. We will be a better industry as a result of our collective efforts.
|Meet the Author
Michael B. Romano is president/COO of Associated Material Handling Industries, located in Carol Stream, Illinois, and on the Web at www.associated-allied.net. Romano was MHEDA President in 2002 and currently is chairman of MHEDA’s Industry Advocacy Committee.